Optogenetics starts to shine a light on brain diseases

Starting from the premise that all drugs used to treat brain ailments clumsily flood the entire system with therapeutics, researchers say that fiber optics can help pinpoint the exact regions of the brain that need to be targeted when treating Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, epilepsy and other such ailments. And that approach can lead to startling insights into new therapies.

The goal is to stimulate neurons that control key functions in the brain. In animal studies researchers have used the technology to make mice run in circles and flies flap their wings. The scientists have also been able to use animal studies to suggest a new approach to treating Parkinson's.

Karl Deisseroth, a psychiatrist and professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, says optogenetics led him to the conclusion that magnets could be used to stimulate cells on the surface of the brain that play a major role in Parkinson's.

"We only could have come to this insight using optogenetics," Dr. Deisseroth says. "It has the potential to radically change the way Parkinson's is treated."

- read the report from the Wall Street Journal